Cred­i­bil­ity fac­tor keeps tra­di­tional me­dia alive

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

The rise of so­cial net­works and on­line me­dia, to­gether with the shut­ting down of sev­eral news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, have cre­ated a run of neg­a­tive head­lines about the prospects for tra­di­tional me­dia over the past two years, with lines such as “Harsh win­ter for print me­dia” and “Print me­dia is dead” be­ing the most com­mon.

Be­fore dis­cussing whether print me­dia has re­ally en­tered the in­ten­sive care unit or is al­ready at the edge of death, I think there is a need to clar­ify if the “print me­dia” every­one talks about refers to the tra­di­tional me­dia, or is lim­ited to print me­dia such as news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. I need this clar­ity be­cause a sur­vey shows that the num­ber of peo­ple who bought news­pa­pers over the past three or four years has grad­u­ally de­clined, but the num­ber re­ceiv­ing news from elec­tronic news­pa­pers has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly.

It can be said that there has been a change in Hong Kong peo­ple’s news-read­ing habits in re­cent years. They might not have to hold the news­pa­per to re­ceive in­for­ma­tion as they did in the past; in­stead they browse news on the in­ter­net. How­ever, the web­sites peo­ple visit are mainly elec­tronic ver­sions of those paid news­pa­pers. This shows that we still tend to trust tra­di­tional me­dia more in terms of the cred­i­bil­ity of news and in­for­ma­tion on cur­rent af­fairs.

In Au­gust, the Cen­tre for Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Pub­lic Opin­ion Sur­vey of the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong con­ducted a sur­vey, ask­ing a ran­dom sam­ple of 907 cit­i­zens aged 18 or above to rate the cred­i­bil­ity of me­dia as a whole and 29 me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Elec­tronic me­dia and paid news­pa­pers re­ceived higher rat­ings than free news­pa­pers and on­line me­dia in gen­eral; on­line me­dia’s rat­ings on cred­i­bil­ity were low while their av­er­age score was the low­est among dif­fer­ent me­dia chan­nels.

Cle­ment Y.K. So, pro­fes­sor of the School of Jour­nal­ism and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong and as­so­ciate dean of the Fac­ulty of So­cial Sci­ence, com­pared the pub­lic’s rat­ings on the cred­i­bil­ity of me­dia with the traf­fic statis­tics of on­line me­dia from Alexa.

So found there was a pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion be­tween the cred­i­bil­ity of paid news­pa­pers and elec­tronic me­dia and the traf­fic rank­ings of their web­sites. This sug­gests that the higher the cred­i­bil­ity, the higher the traf­fic.

Yet the com­par­i­son be­tween free news­pa­pers and on­line me­dia is not the same — here cred­i­bil­ity and traf­fic had no cor­re­la­tion. Read­ers only con­sume sim­ple news in­stantly from free news­pa­pers and they tend not to have high ex­pec­ta­tions on the cred­itabil­ity of free and in­stant in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by on­line me­dia.

I re­mem­ber one in­ci­dent which was re­ported rapidly over so­cial net­works. When some­one ques­tioned the au­then­tic­ity of this in­ci­dent, a re­spon­der com­mented: “This has been re­ported by the news­pa­per. It should be true.”

No mat­ter how neg­a­tively the pub­lic sees the prospects for the de­vel­op­ment of tra­di­tional me­dia, when it comes to cred­i­bil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity it is still im­pos­si­ble for so­cial net­works or me­dia led by non-jour­nal­ists to re­place the po­si­tion of tra­di­tional me­dia.

Re­call­ing this com­ment, I am not sure if I should cry or laugh. Many of the younger gen­er­a­tion who seem to be ac­tive on so­cial net­works of­ten scoff at tra­di­tional me­dia or the main­stream me­dia. But they still placed more trust in them. As So said, per­haps the pub­lic might not have very high ex­pec­ta­tions on the cred­i­bil­ity of free and in­stant in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by on­line me­dia.

In ad­di­tion, look­ing back to the dis­turb­ing US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion at the end of last year, some be­lieve that one rea­son be­hind the de­feat of Demo­cratic Party can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton was fake news on­line. A num­ber of re­ports or news about Clin­ton or the Demo­cratic Party shared all over so­cial net­works were in fact un­con­firmed or even false news which was purely fic­tional.

In the wake of this, the Czech Repub­lic — which is go­ing to have two key elec­tions in the next two years — has set up a spe­cial depart­ment to crack down on fake news. It seems the pub­lic has been aware of the scourge of the over­flow of false news and re­ex­am­ined the cred­i­bil­ity of the me­dia and the so­cial role of tra­di­tional me­dia.

It can­not be de­nied that in re­cent years tra­di­tional me­dia have faced set­backs, from changes in read­ing habits and the eco­nomic slow­down, to nu­mer­ous chal­lenges in op­er­a­tions, and tighter man­power lim­it­ing their ca­pac­ity to pub­lish the best con­tent.

How­ever, the way tra­di­tional me­dia han­dle news and in­for­ma­tion still strictly fol­lows an in­her­ent code and stan­dards, which in­clude never spread­ing ru­mors or re­ports with­out any fact check­ing. There­fore, no mat­ter how neg­a­tively the pub­lic sees the prospects for the de­vel­op­ment of tra­di­tional me­dia, when it comes to cred­i­bil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity it is still im­pos­si­ble for so­cial net­works or me­dia led by non-jour­nal­ists to re­place the po­si­tion of tra­di­tional me­dia.

There is still room for im­prove­ment for tra­di­tional me­dia or print me­dia in the fore­see­able fu­ture, but print me­dia will not come to a sud­den end.

The au­thor is the chair­man of the News­pa­per So­ci­ety of Hong Kong.

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